I'm a firm believer that art should reflect life, even when life kinda sucks, like it has for the past year during COVID-19. Everyone joked last spring about how many coronavirus screenplays would come out of quarantine, but to be honest, the saturation hasn't been that high. We've gotten gems like Recoveryat SXSW 2021, stories full of heart and populated by characters who are struggling to figure things out just like the rest of us.

In Recovery, sisters Jamie (Whitney Call) and Blake Jerikovic (Mallory Everton) have their lives turned upside down at the start of lockdown. When they learn their Nana (Anne Sward Hansen) is in danger at her COVID-infested nursing home, they decide to brave the wide world on a pandemic road trip to save her.

The film captures something nostalgic about the beginning of the pandemic. The uncertainty. The nerves. The obsessive sanitizing.

Call and Everton wrote the script. Everton co-directed with Stephen Meek. They all share experience as sketch writers and performers in the popular comedy show Studio C, and you can definitely see this experience paying off in their snappy dialogue and tight editing.

The three of them were kind enough to Zoom with No Film School ahead of their SXSW premiere to talk about the development of the story, how they shot and edited during the pandemic, and why it's important to just go for it. Enjoy!

Recovery_salt_flats_0'Recovery'Credit: Sorø Films

Editor's note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: So Recovery is about COVID-19, and you shot it during COVID-19. Practically, what did your production look like?

Whitney Call: Different! I think our biggest motivation behind this whole film was to—we wanted to get it out as quickly as possible. Mal often talks about just how... When we were saying, "Hey, should we make something about COVID?" We thought, "When are people going to stop being interested in watching something about COVID?" So we thought, "Let's make this as quickly as we can so that it's still relevant, so that it still hits people in an interesting place." And so that in and of itself made the process just super streamlined. We had to do what we could with the people we could, and also staying safe and [in] our budget. It just made us have tiny crews. We had, I think about seven people on set, including Mal and me when we were on camera. Very bare bones and just keeping our distance and trying to keep locations minimum.

I mean, you can see it now in all of these COVID movies coming out, there's a lot of very simple productions. We had no idea that doing a road trip was going to make it feel less confined because for us, that's the simplest way we could think of to make this story. We didn't have access to testing because at that point, unless you had symptoms or unless you had a doctor's referral, you couldn't just go to Walgreens and get tested. So it was more just like, "Hey everyone, let's form a double bubble for two weeks and let's try and make a movie in two weeks, and then no one gets sick."

Stephen Meek: It was pretty wild.

Gas_station_1'Recovery'Credit: Sorø Films

NFS: Oh, that is amazing, but I love that you just went for it.

Call: That was the whole motto of this movie. Just go for it.

Mallory Everton: There was this strange feeling, like time had stopped, and Whitney and I were talking the other day about how prior to this pandemic, we dreamt about making a feature for a long time, but we had done mostly sketch comedy work and ads and some web series as well, but we just didn't have time to work on something like that. Or it felt like, "Oh, we'd be giving up this job, or we'd be giving up this opportunity to make money." And then this pandemic rolls in and time just stops, and we thought, "Man, we just need something to do. Let's try and see if we can make some kind of movie. Whatever kind of movie we can make, that's the movie we want to do right now." And so we just tried to be as resourceful as possible. And once we came up with the rescue road trip idea, it just sort of flopped out and we thought, "Okay, we gotta do this."

NFS: One thing that I think is so effective is that it just has this energy. The writing keeps things moving so well because the jokes keep hitting you. I'm interested in how you struck a tonal balance in the writing. Because it is a serious topic, the actual pandemic.

Everton: Right. Just a broad-strokes approach for us was we just wanted to make something that wasn't a huge bummer if we could avoid it. So whenever there was an opportunity to keep it light, you wanted to try to do that, and to hopefully keep things sort of just surprising, like new things to laugh at and upbeat songs, just things that would make people feel like, I guess, subliminally that we have the option to laugh and kind of dance through this crappy, horrible time.

28-car-wide-scaled'Recovery'Credit: Sorø Films

Call: The making of it, I think, is just also... Since Mal and I grew up together, we've been making things together since we were eight or nine years old. We, I think, wanted to translate that into the script too, just keeping our relationship and the warmth that we feel when we're turning to the only people we could turn to during this pandemic, which was the people closest to us.

I feel like all of my outer rings of society and sociality had just been completely cut off. And so when Mal and I wrote this script, I think we wanted to infuse a lot of what we were getting from each other during this low point to help other people feel like they're just hanging out with their best friend right now, because that's what got us through this pandemic was the two or three people that we actually maybe saw this year.

Everton: Yeah, and early on I know we also talked about how we kind of wanted the movie to feel like a podcast almost, like when you listen to a podcast and you get to know those hosts, and you just feel like you're hanging out with your friends when you put it on when you're cooking or whatever. We just wanted it to be easy and inviting.

Meek: Yeah.

NFS: That definitely comes through. I also want to touch on the post process. The edit was very, very tight. How did all that go?

Everton: Well, we cut it ourselves, so it was brutal. It was crazy.

Call: But the tightness is probably also lent to our background in sketch. We were in sketch comedy for around eight or nine years together and before we did web series, and so I think we're very used to trying to keep jokes flowing. This obviously, we felt like, had a little more breadth than actual sketches, but Mal and Stephen were the ones that took the edit and so just having that background, I think, was able to keep it feeling like there wasn't too much low energy.

Vertigo_2'Recovery'Credit: Sorø Films

Meek: Right.

Everton: Yeah, and because we had to get it out so fast, we'd started editing at the end of August and in order to be able to test it and see what jokes were working or see if there was anything needed to change or pick up, we had to get a first cut out in, I think it was 12 days or something like that. So Stephen took the second half of the movie—

Meek: Blistering.

Everton: And I took the first half, and we just rattled through a first cut. And then after that, we did our best to test it as fast as we could, and I just combed through the whole movie and tried to tighten it as much as I could while working with our amazing [composer]. His name's Eric Michael Robertson. All of the music that we didn't pull from online sound libraries was written by him. And it was a lot of many things happening at once because we did have some pickups we had to do, and it was sort of like, "Well, if I don't edit 18 hours a day, this movie won't be anywhere." So it was a wild time for sure. There was not a lot of sleep, and the three of us definitely pulled quite a few true 30-hour workdays while we were just trying to hammer through that edit together.

NFS: That is wild. And you were all apart, doing it online?

Call: At that point, we were definitely together. Yeah.

Meek: Whitney and I are married, and so we have our house here and yeah, Mallory was kind enough to always add an extra 10 minutes to her workday driving all the way over to us. Yeah. It was a crazy, crazy process that we hope we never have to duplicate.

Everton: There are a lot of things about the process that I think the biggest lesson is just never, ever do that again.

NFS: Well, at least now you know you can do it.

Call: That's true.

Dream-field-scaled'Recovery'Credit: Sorø Films

NFS: Hopefully never again. I was going to ask specifically about how much of the story taking place in the car affected how you were doing things because it still has energy, like I said. So what were you doing specifically in that very tight, contained space to keep things up and energetic?

Call: While we were writing the script, Mal and I [used] our chemistry to improvise scenes together. We wanted it to feel just as natural and flowing while still having fun high points as possible. So we improvised a lot, but we did it in the writing process so that we could fine-tune it, we could sharpen it, because we also just didn't have time to film much more improvised material on set.

But for those car scenes, I also think like Mal specifically was like, "Hey, if we do these car games and we improvise just the games on set, then we can keep our reactions absolutely sincere and try and make it as real and fun as possible." So all the deal-breaker stuff, a lot of those talking scenarios were actual reactions. The ham-butt and Cornish game hen hands—

Meek: Cornish game hens?

Call: No, not Cornish.

Everton: Rotisserie chickens.

Call: Rotisserie chickens!

Everton: Those are cousins. Those are meat cousins.

Even though the plot isn't necessarily super—there are definitely high-stakes elements, especially like the Nana portion. We have this plot with the mice, we have this plot with this guy, and we have this Nana plot. Can we braid them so that they're happening at different times? And so we tried to sort of pepper in those moving plots to keep things feeling like there was momentum, but also amidst this kind of fun stuff that we were trying to do. And we're hoping we struck a good balance, but we were intentionally really trying to make sure it felt like we were going somewhere, even though we were just sitting in that car forever.

31-orchard-scaled'Recovery'Credit: Sorø Films

NFS: Yeah. What did you actually shoot the film on? Lenses, camera?

Meek: Sigma lenses and the Red HELIUM. Our director of photography, Brenna Empey, is the most phenomenal person in the world, and she's done virtually every project for us for the last year and a half, two years now. And she's just an artist. An artiste.

Call: She's an artiste.

Meek: She's amazing.

Everton: She just knows what she needs, and she's very assertive, and she's very kind, and just a joy to work with. We're very lucky.

Meek: The movie would not have been possible without Brenna.

Everton: Oh no.

NFS: What advice do you have for beginning filmmakers?

Mv5bnja3mgrjy2etnwm4ns00ogewltlkzdytntk4odfhzgnknmy2xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjeymtm0mgMeek, Call, and Everton in the cast of 'Studio C'Credit: BYUtv

Call: I think for me, I feel like this would have never happened if we didn't just decide, "We have a lot of unanswered questions, but we always will have unanswered questions so we've just got to do it." Because I mean, I've had enough scripts lying around that I'm trying to get people to fund, trying to get people to direct, trying to get people on board. And so when Mal and I just said, "Okay, we're going to go for it. We're going to do it. Let's put our own money into this and just see what we can do." That's when opportunities started happening. We ended up having Sorø Films get on halfway through production, who completely raised our production value. But I don't know that we would have necessarily attracted anyone if we hadn't already been starting to fly.

I always say, "We were building a plane while it was flying." You attract people when the project's already in action, and I just don't know if we would have ever gotten this done if we didn't decide like, "Who cares who's going to say no, we want to do this."

Everton: Yeah. I think I would say, "Don't take yourself or your first film too seriously." Not to say don't give it your all or anything like that, but I just think if you can let go of your perfect thing and make the thing you can make right now, you'll be a person who is prolific and therefore much more experienced in 10 years if you keep making stuff and take it just even the slightest bit less seriously, because that was a huge reason we were able to finish this at all.

Meek: And I think also loving the process over the product. That's something that I've heard from several people, but just the idea that the actual work of filmmaking is such a joy and it doesn't all hinge on whatever that final piece is that you've put together. I mean, the stress of us going to locations the night before we needed to be there, and other locations falling through, or getting location permission on the drive over to it. All of these random things that happened, in some ways I think back on them and it feels just exhilarating, just that whole process is amazingly fun and you have to be adaptable and flexible to make it all work out.

Everton: And we have no control over the way things are received. We really don't. We can work on something and love it to life and it just doesn't connect sometimes, but if you loved making it, you already got your reward.

NFS: All amazing advice. Is there anything you wanted to add that I didn't talk about?

Meek: We should say thank you to No Film School because—

Call: We're big fans.

Meek: We're big fans.

NFS: That makes me so happy. Thank you. I really, really appreciate that, and I'll let everyone know.

Everton: Thank you.

Meek: We wouldn't have known how to film the car stuff without your guys' help.

For more, read our ongoing coverage of the 2021 SXSW Festival.